UK CAA Airport Guidance on Hidden Disabilities
In 2016, the UK’s CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) published information and guidance on setting industry standards for airports providing assistance to people with hidden disabilities. This forced many airports in the UK to change their standards by 2017 to be able to provide a consistent and high-quality service to all disabled people, including those with hidden disabilities, which also resulted in other European airports following and improving their services too. To improve the service and overall experience, UK airports have implemented the following:
Receiving information about specific needs
The CAA notably made it obligatory for UK airports to have systems which transfers information from airlines about specific passenger needs to ensure their needs are met at the airport and assistance is provided when needed.
Making sure customer service, security and assistance staff are fully trained on awareness and assisting people with both visible and non-visible disabilities. Training focused on better-informing passengers on what to expect during the security search process
Adding information on the assistance available in airports, making sure that it is accessible to all. For example, this includes visual guides and videos to demonstrate the assistance available.
Signage and Accessible Routes
Airports were advised to provide quieter routes and quieter waiting spaces for passengers to avoid the busy and congested routes with lots of people. These are particularly useful for passengers with sensory issues, as the busy spaces with loud noises, glaring lights and shiny floors can cause difficulties. Airports are also not allowed to separate passengers with disabilities from their accompanying person at any part of the airport, unless both parties have approved.
Lanyards or wristbands
Lanyards, wristbands or other discrete identifiers are now optionally worn universally by people who may not need airport assistance for their whole stay, but may wish to easily identify themselves to staff to get extra help or assistance, especially at stressful or difficult parts of the passenger journey such as security search and boarding.
UK CAA Airline Guidance on Hidden Disabilities
In 2018, the UK’s CAA provided guidance for airlines to follow similar advice as was given to airports, as detailed above. Guidelines put in place included making sure airlines have in place a clear and accessible pre-notification system which allows passengers to request special assistance when booking. It also means airlines have to share this information about any assistance needs with their own company, the airport, and with ground handling agents. Airlines should also make sure that passengers with hidden disabilities are sat next to their travelling companion at no additional cost to them, and that these passengers are looked after in the event of any delays or cancellations to your flight. Finally, the CAA recommends airlines invest in significant training of staff for hidden disability awareness and assistance.
USA DOT and Hidden Disabilities
The United States’ Department of Transportation have advised that airlines must be accommodating to the needs of passengers with both visible and invisible disabilities. The US Air Carrier Access Act has made it illegal for airlines to discriminate against passengers because of their disability. This act applies to all flights to or from or within the United States. In addition, airlines must ensure that they provide assistance to those who need it, including mobility assistance around the airport or on the plane and seating arrangements.